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US Commander in South Korea Says Control Transfer Will Strengthen Alliance


The newly-appointed commander of U.S. forces in South Korea says he is confident an upcoming transfer in command control from Washington to South Korea will leave the two countries' alliance stronger. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

U.S. Lieutenant General Walter Sharp spoke directly to South Korean pride when he praised the country's military.

"Do not underestimate the power of your [South Korea's] military. They are good," he said.

Sharp assumed command of U.S. forces stationed in Korea last month. Washington deploys about 28,000 military personnel in South Korea, to deter or defeat any repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion.

In some of his first public comments since taking command, Sharp said South Korea's military has risen "head and shoulders" above where it was 10 years ago, when Sharp was stationed here, as an infantry officer.

"It has the ability, I believe, working within the alliance, to beat any North Korean threat," he said.

Under agreement with South Korea, the United States would assume command of the South Korean military, in the event of a renewed war with the North. But the two countries have agreed to return wartime operational control of South Korean forces to Seoul in 2012.

One of Sharp's main tasks is to sort out the implementation of the agreement, while reinforcing the alliance's ability to fight a war, if necessary. Using the common shorthand "ROK," standing for South Korea's formal name, the Republic of Korea, Sharp says more responsibility is being shifted.

"Right now we are starting to develop ROK-lead plans, as to what would that war plan look like, and with them, the ROK, in the lead, what would we, the United States, need to support that plan that would make the overarching plan even stronger than what we have today?" he added.

Sharp dismisses the notion that the wartime control transfer is a prelude to the United States withdrawing from South Korea.

"We, the United States, would be stupid to leave this region. And, I believe that is what our government believes right now, also," said Sharp.

Sharp says American service members will probably soon be assigned three-year tours of duty in South Korea, rather than the current one year. They will also be able to move here with their families - something he says will stabilize and strengthen the South Korean-American alliance.

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